Major League Baseball has given the Rays permission to explore becoming a two-city team, splitting their games between their current home market in Tampa/St. Petersburg and Montreal, Quebec, which has not hosted an MLB team on a regular basis since the Expos departed for Washington, D.C. following the 2004 season. ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first to report the story on Thursday, and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and The Athletic’s Evan Drellich quickly chipped in with key details. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying, “I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration.”
BREAKING: The Tampa Bay Rays have received MLB's permission to explore becoming two-city team: the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, sources tell ESPN. The plan: Play early-season home games in the Tampa Bay area and finish the season in Montreal. News at ESPN: https://t.co/X6uSt4KLfC— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 20, 2019
Manfred said the Rays are committed to playing at Tropicana Field through 2027, so the idea of a St. Pete/Montreal split-season would be more of a long-term concept.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) June 20, 2019
Rob Manfred says the Rays have a "broad grant" to explore a split season in Montreal. That could be in an old stadium or a new stadium. "That's really up to Stu Sternberg." There's no commitment yet, just exploratory.— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) June 20, 2019
The Rays have endured attendance issues for years — and have operated from a baseball perspective as if those issues are preventing them from maintaining a budget that is even close to competing with those of other major-league clubs — so it’s not surprising to see them consider relocation. It is surprising to see them weighing the idea of splitting the team’s home games between their current market and another city that is in a totally different country, five hours away by plane. Even if they are legitimately considering this idea — which seems less and less likely by the minute considering the unanimously negative reaction to it on social media Thursday afternoon — this isn’t something that would be enacted at any point in the near future, as the Rays have committed to playing all their home games at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season.
As recently-retired reliever Brad Ziegler alluded to on Twitter after the news broke, the situation would be disastrous for players. There’d be basically no incentive for them to buy houses in either of the cities, since they’d only be playing 41 games or so in each spot — and either way, they’d be paying rent on two different places that they’re only using for 25 percent of the season each. With the Rays currently being one of the MLB franchises most notorious for shuttling players back and forth between Triple-A and the majors, the players on the fringe of the roster would have to secure housing in three different cities. Unless the Rays are also prepared to have a two-city Triple-A team, those minor-leaguers would endure some long flights when going up or down if the MLB club is playing in the city that’s far away from the Triple-A team. Players with school-age children would be away from their families even more than a standard major-leaguer, and for those that are able to move their families around to multiple locations, they’d have to maintain multiple doctors, babysitters, etc. There’d also be the issue of players having to deal with being taxed in multiple countries, and the fact that Florida has no state income tax seemingly would only complicate things further.
In addition, it would be far from ideal for the people MLB is hoping will be fans of the team. Fans in the Tampa/St. Pete market would likely feel like their team has been half-stolen, while fans in Montreal — who have already endured the heartbreak of losing their beloved Expos — would probably feel like MLB isn’t ready to make a full commitment to being back in the market, and that the team may just be using them as leverage in order to get a new stadium built in Florida.